Followership: You Go First!

I’ve mentioned that I am reading slowly through Leonard Sweet’s excellent book I Am a Follower.

He opens his book with the conviction that it is very difficult for a person to “go first” when it comes to taking an action, making a statement, or otherwise involving themselves in something.  We naturally hold back, waiting for someone else to go first.

People who “go first” usually experience things others do not.  Soldiers who are the first to leave a foxhole are more likely to get wounded.  The first person who received a heart transplant faced a greater risk of mortality than patients getting new hearts do today.  People who are the first to express their convictions are often more misunderstood than when their words become part of a larger reality.

Sweet acknowledges that this is completely normal.  But then he says, “Someone has to go first.”  And he uses studies from the social sciences and his own experience to describe the good things that can come as a result.

I don’t know how he will unfold this initial perspective in the rest of the book, so I may be running ahead of him in this blog post.  As I have reflected on his opening words, I can totally agree with the “risk factor” in going first, and I also agree that there are times when we cannot avoid being the first person to do or say something.

But….there is a sense in which none of us ever “goes first.”  The Holy Spirit always goes first, and that means when we honor our deepest convictions, the words we speak and/or the actions we take are already “contextual”—set within the larger convictions which the Spirit is producing prior to anything we say or do.   Our involvement is only one piece of the larger tapestry God is seeking to weave in the life of the person or group with whom we are involved.

I think Sweet will go on to say (in so many words) that Jesus has “come first,” but even that is in relation to a larger picture that the writer of Hebrews describes in the first verse of the letter.  This means that when we are moved by the Spirit to speak or act in a way that makes us feel like we’re “going first,” all we have to do is look down, and we will find footprints already on the path.

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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One Response to Followership: You Go First!

  1. Dear Steve, This reply isn’t about this post per se. I have only in the last week or do discovered your blog (through LenSweet). You may or may not remember my time at ATS as I was never in class with you but I sang at a couple of President’s Retreats. I am an Elder in the NC AC now and am pastoring in Troy, NC. I so much appreciate your blog posts. Your serene, clear spirit comes shining through and helps me center in the Spirit in the early morning. I hope someday to still sing and write and you are showing me the way, Thank you. BTW, our church website is if you can’t remember who I am.

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